Sussex Police Commissioner says action is planned after ‘horrific rises’ in verbal abuse and violence on shop workers

Shopworkers in Sussex have been subjected to physical assaults, verbal abuse and intimidation, Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has heard.

Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 3:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 3:46 pm

She called a meeting to discuss the concerns raised with her by members of the business community.

The meeting involved members of the Safer Sussex Business Partnership which includes senior officers from Sussex Police, business crime experts, representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op as well as smaller, local stores, business crime reduction partnerships and Mitie.

From April 1 2019 to March 31 2020, there were 483 reports of violence against a shopworker made to Sussex Police, an increase of 32 per cent (156 reports) over the previous year.

Katy Bourne. Picture supplied by Sussex Police SUS-190806-095044001

However, Mrs Bourne heard from business owners that this type of crime is still vastly under-reported and is having huge impacts on victims and wider community.

The meeting heard local stores across the county are experiencing ‘horrific rises’ in verbal abuse and violence against their staff, exacerbated by the current pandemic which has led to product shortages and strict social distancing measures.

Danny Molloy, Tesco Area Manager for Sussex and Kent said: “We have seen an increase in colleagues assaulted and spat at recently. The prolific offenders causing problems for us before have just got worse. As lockdown loosens, we are also expecting to see an increase in shoplifting and with that will come even more violence and threatening behaviour. As a local retailer we will be looking to share our data more widely and report more incidents to the police who I have been reassured will take action.”

One large chain retailer has experienced more than 7,000 crimes in just the last three months, including assaults on their staff and security. Many of these crimes have been driven by homelessness, local drug supply and county lines, the meeting was told.

Mrs Bourne said the figures were ‘shocking’. “This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities. Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against shopworkers cannot be tolerated,” she said.

“We have developed a unique partnership, recognising that business crime matters and making best use of each other’s expertise. I want to assure all business owners and staff that their concerns are being listened to and will be robustly and positively acted upon.

“Sussex Police is expanding, meaning we now have more boots on the ground gathering vital intelligence, working with partners and targeting prolific offenders.”

Business Crime Lead for Sussex Police, Chris Neilson said: “We don’t want to just push the problem from one area to another. If there are prolific offenders known to numerous businesses across the county, we will be working to target these individuals and using the powers we have to take positive action against them.

“By working closely with larger retailers and their centralised security, and by engaging with smaller local stores to gather intelligence, we can improve our approach to business crime and ensure that our figures better reflect the current situation in Sussex.”

Newly appointed Chief Constable Jo Shiner was also in the meeting as a new member of the partnership. She pledged her commitment to tackling business crime saying: “It is absolutely unacceptable that members of our community are being targeted in this way, just for carrying out their job.

“Although the increase in the reporting of violence does suggest that people feel more comfortable talking to the police, it also reflects that some individuals think this sort of criminal behaviour is appropriate, and they could not be more wrong.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how intrinsic retail workers are to our way of life: treating them like this is not how we show our thanks, and we are committed to bringing this sort of crime down. No one deserves to go to work in fear of violence.”

Another meeting of the Safer Sussex Business Partnership will be convened on July 17 with another scheduled for July 29. The meetings will look at easier and less time-consuming ways for businesses to report crime and then subsequently how officers will investigate and feed back the results of investigations.